Paper Conservation: Saving Historic Newspapers From Loss

Posted by on Dec 29, 2010 in All Posts | 2 Comments

Beyond the acquisition and digital preservation of historic newspapers, Rag Linen also physically conserves the original printed artifacts for future generations.  Early newspapers were printed on durable rag linen paper and often bound by institutions for long-term storage; however, these newspapers survived countless natural and man-made disasters, including major wars, floods and fires, so many still show scars. Some worse than others.

To help save these first drafts of history from loss and restore them as close as possible to their original condition, Rag Linen has partnered with one of the top paper conservators in the world.

J. Franklin (Frank) Mowery, a recognized leader and innovator in paper conservation and restoration, is head of conservation at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC.  In addition to his full-time work, Frank has maintained a private practice (restorepaper.com) for more than 30 years to help folks like Rag Linen.  His clients include galleries, museums, libraries, dealers and private collectors in the United States and abroad. Among his notable projects are numerous copies of the Declaration of Independence, including a Dunlap broadside, multiple Stone copies, and numerous Force copies (watch this great video on the drafting, signing and copying of the Declaration of Independence).  Frank specializes in early American documents, autographs, old master drawings and prints, and 20th century graphic art.

When it comes to colonial newspapers, like the ones in the Rag Linen archive, damage frequently includes tears, non-archival tape mends, holes, stains and acidification.  On historically significant or severely damaged  pieces, Rag Linen will often turn to Frank Mowery for his expert paper restoration and repair.  Frank is widely recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on leafcasting, or infilling loses with paper pulp on a small papermaking machine.  Below are images of Frank working on a recent Rag Linen newspaper project — the February 17, 1775, issue of the New Hampshire Gazette — which included use of the leafcaster.  Check out more of Frank’s work at restorepaper.com, including his before and after portfolio. For a free estimate on your project, please contact Frank Mowery at 202-468-8644 or restorepaper@yahoo.com.

Photo captions (left to right, top to bottom):

  1. The tattered and torn paper placed in the leafcaster awaiting water and paper pulp.
  2. Adding the measured amount of paper pulp into the water above the documents being repaired (it is critical to add the correct amount of pulp to match the weight of the original).
  3. Stirring the paper pulp in the water above the documents being repaired.
  4. Lifting the hold-down grid (which holds the paper in place while mixing the pulp) as the suction begins, which draws the water and paper pulp down to the areas of loss.
  5. The casting is nearly complete, the paper pulp has been drawn to the losses, the water passes through the screening material that the documents are lying on, the paper pulp gets trapped and fill the holes.
  6. Lifting the wet, but cast (repaired) document out of the leafcaster.
  7. The cast (repaired) document being laid on the vacuum suction table to dry.
  8. Before and after treatment.

VIDEO: For additional background on the art and science of paper conservation, here is a great behind-the-scenes video filmed in the New York Public Library’s conservation lab.

2 Comments

  1. gordonbelt (Gordon Belt)
    January 4, 2011

    Saving Historic Newspapers From Loss via @RagLinen http://bit.ly/fKvP27

  2. Sue Charles
    August 1, 2012

    That is SO AMAZING!! I’ve often wondered if it was possible to adequately save and repair aging historic documents.
    I just now connected with the facebook page, and look forward to reading through the historic documents with great interest!!

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